Union, city striking out with residents

If you’d asked me two months ago about the City of London’s interest in becoming more “open for business,” I’d have told you it was a silly waste of time. Most business owners, I’d have said, will never set foot in City Hall. There could have been nothing like a strike of city workers to make me eat my hat.

And so I must, because as the strike passes its sixth week, it’s not just the people marching at the corner of Wellington and Dufferin, whose livelihoods hang in the balance. Developers, restaurateurs, retail merchants, construction workers, and a host of other employees and business owners wait on the line as well.

The most notable delays are in permits and inspections necessary for the progress of many entrepreneurial endeavours already underway in London. I understand the city brought in workers to alleviate the backlog at the building department, but a phone call to city hall last week left little doubt that most people will wait some time yet to move their projects ahead.

It’s not just major developers that are stalled. It’s restaurants that won’t open on time without permits to install necessary equipment. It’s businesses whose doors are closed because their applications for licenses are unprocessed. It’s building owners whose space will remain vacant longer because they can’t get necessary inspections for renovations. It’s sole proprietors who have no income, landlords whose tenants can’t pay rent, employees who aren’t getting any shifts, and construction crews and tradespeople that have no work.

Together, they make up a number of people who couldn’t cross a picket line if they wanted to, and they won’t get strike pay. They’ll wait for the strike to end to return to work because they have no other choice. The most frustrating part of the wait is that nobody on either side of the debate is sharing enough for any of us to begin to decide whether our sacrifice is all worth it.

It’s all well and good to believe in proletariat solidarity on principle, but aren’t all those business owners and workers owed a better explanation of exactly why they have no income than they’ve so far been offered? I respect the right to privacy in contract negotiations, but when my own livelihood is on the line, it’ll take some explanation to garner my real support.

Both sides claim the concessions being requested are far too great, but neither is sharing much in the way of detail on what’s been asked for or why. The sticking points seem to be whether City employees should be required to work weekends and the precise amount of a raise. I don’t understand, and neither do most, how these two issues could become completely irreconcilable for such a duration among reasonable parties of intelligent people.

I don’t understand why there can be no middle ground, and that’s really the salient point. As I look for ways to make my ends meet while putting things on hold for the strike, I would like at least to know why it’s been so impossible to end.

At first, the silence on both sides was nearly admirable, but by now it’s starting to look more like a disregard for the people affected by the strike. At its worst, keeping citizens in the dark might appear to be a means of keeping us from forming and expressing opinions. Either way, at this point, silence hardly seems becoming of a union meant to value the interests of workers, or the city purporting to serve them.

Originally published in Our London.